Chicago -

Baptist churches in Kentucky are giving away guns as prizes in the southern US state in the hope of drawing wayward rednecks to Christ.

Lone Oak First Baptist Church is hosting the next “faith and firearms” event on Thursday and has invited the townsfolk of Paducah to come by for a free steak dinner and a chance to win one of 25 handguns, long guns and shotguns which have been donated as prizes.

The purpose is to “point people to Christ” while also celebrating gun rights and the great outdoors, the church said.

Preacher Chuck McAlister - who used to host a popular hunting show on the Outdoor Channel and is a member of the Kentucky Baptist Convention's executive team - will be the guest speaker.

McAlister's ministry “revolves around God, guns and good ol' boys”, and has helped more than 3 000 people find Christ in the past two years, the convention said in an article on its website.

“That's a phenomenal number of souls saved under one man's ministry by anybody's standards,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, an umbrella group for 2 400 autonomous churches.

“Chuck has a unique gift that makes him especially effective in reaching out to us good ol' boys, and he does it with passion.”

The “Second Amendment Celebrations” have drawn the ire of clergy across Kentucky, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

“How ironic to use guns to lure men in to hear a message about Jesus, who said, 'Put away the sword’,” Reverend Joe Phelps, pastor of Louisville's independent Highland Baptist Church, told the paper in an article posted on Monday.

“Can you picture Jesus giving away guns, or toasters or raffle tickets? He gave away bread once, but that was as a sign, not a sales pitch.”

Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of New Union Church in Versailles and former director of the Kentucky Council of Churches called the events a “travesty”.

“Churches should not be encouraging people in their communities to arm themselves against their neighbours, but to love their neighbours, as instructed by Jesus,” she told the paper.

“How terrible it would be if one of those guns given away at a church were to cause the death of an innocent victim.”

McAlister insisted that guns are a great way to reach out to the “unchurched”.

“You have to know the hook that will attract people, and hunting is huge in Kentucky,” he told the paper. “So we get in there and burp and scratch and talk about the right to bear arms and that stuff.” - Sapa-AFP